Goya Foods Executive and Lehman Graduate to Receive Distinguished Alumnus Award

Carlos Ortiz, a class of 1979 Lehman College graduate and Vice President and General Counsel of Goya Foods, was honored on February 13 in Albany with a “Distinguished Alumnus” award. The New York State Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus sponsored the event to commemorate the 50th anniversary of CUNY’s Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK (Search for education, elevation, and knowledge) program. Ortiz was a SEEK student during his years at Lehman.

The ceremony’s second honoree was Lovely Warren, the mayor of Rochester and an alumnus of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She also credits the SEEK program with helping her attain her degree. CUNY Chancellor James Milliken presented both awards at the Saturday luncheon, which was also attended by Lehman President Ricardo R. Fernández. “SEEK played an enormous role in my success,” said the 59-year old Ortiz. “I came from a very poor family and SEEK provided me with financial aid, counseling and academic services. It allowed us to grow and develop as students. It’s really an all around good program. I don’t know where I’d be without SEEK.”

Ortiz was born in the Bronx, but grew up in Washington Heights. His father had a third grade education and his mother didn’t complete high school. When he completed Lehman with a BS in Accounting, he became a first generation college graduate. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School in 1985. “At Lehman, I not only received the benefit of outstanding teaching, but the moral and emotional support the faculty provided for students at that time,” he says.

Ortiz recalls no faculty member providing him with more support than Professor James Kraus, a retired associate professor of economics and accounting. In the 1970’s, Kraus assisted Ortiz with a rent strike so he could receive essential heat and hot water services in his Washington Heights apartment. A few years after graduation, Kraus was instrumental in encouraging Ortiz to apply to -and attend law school. The mentor-mentee relationship blossomed into a decades-long lasting friendship and last May, Kraus attended Ortiz’s wedding celebration. Kraus is married to Lehman Professor Carmen Esteves, an associate professor and director of the Comparative Literature Program in the Languages and Literature Department.

Ortiz joined Goya Foods in 1989 and the company is the largest Hispanic-owned food corporation in the United States. As general counsel, Ortiz has been “responsible for protecting Goya’s legal rights and interests and providing advice and counsel to Goya’s board of directors, officers and managers.” Before joining Goya, he worked as an auditor for accounting firm Deloitte, Haskins and Sales.” He delivered the keynote address at Lehman’s convocation ceremony in 2008.

SEEK was officially renamed The Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program in 2011 after the late Manhattan Borough President, who was a leader in creating the organization. SEEK is a state funded educational program of the City University of New York. According to its Lehman webpage, “The SEEK Program provides access to the university’s senior colleges, under non-traditional admissions criteria for talented and motivated high school graduates who need academic and financial support.”

In addition to Ortiz and Warren, other notable SEEK students include Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron and Manhattan Judge Lottie Wilkins, a Supreme Court justice in New York’s 1st Judicial District.